In this second in the series after Sister of the Lionheart, Joanna is now a widow, journeying with her brother on the Third Crusade. Almost as tough as the legendary Richard, Joanna’s sole goal is to see Jerusalem. She ultimately becomes the first woman to do so at a time when the Saracens hold power, and as Richard dangles Joanna as a formidable match for Saladin’s brother, one swiftly rejected by Joanna. At the same time, Joanna and Berengaria, Richard’s long-suffering wife, form an inseparable bond of sisterhood and eventually return to France, together facing the years of Richard’s imprisonment by the Holy Roman Emperor.
On crusade, Joanna and Raymond, Count of Toulouse, begin an intensely powerful adulterous romance, ultimately evolving into a love-match marriage producing three children. Joanna is a headstrong figure, and as Raymond’s fourth wife, she learns that his attention span when it comes to marriage is short.
As quick a read, and as filled with historical events as this is, I found my attention waxing and waning as it had not done in the first volume. Some of the sieges are interminable, and Joanna is often to the point of absolute desperation to see Richard. That having been said, there is only so much known about Joanna, and Benford does an extraordinary job of making her flesh and blood. This is a worthy conclusion to the Joanna series.